CANADA IN THE INDO-PACIFIC?
Canada needs to take a bigger part in the Indo-Pacific’s development and support for a rules-based order or risk getting locked out of the region’s economic, diplomatic and security benefits. Although the Indo-Pacific region is an economic dynamo, it’s also institutionally underdeveloped and the source of numerous traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Traditional challenges include North Korea’s WMD program and potential conflicts between China and neighbouring nations. Non-traditional challenges include piracy, illegal fishing and climate change. Conflicts, especially at sea, could disrupt communications, trade and energy flows.
Canadians know that much is at stake in Indo-Pacific region. A 2020 survey found that 83 per cent of Canadians believe that Canada should stand up to China when values like human rights and democracy are on the line. Opinions vary as to how Canadian engagement in the Indo-Pacific should look.
Any such process should be clearly and meaningfully articulated to garner buy-in from Canadians. It should also be based on a realistic assessment of the capabilities and capacities Canada can bring to the region. Canada has already used existing institutions, such as military exercises among Indo-Pacific nations, to get involved in the area.
Options include bringing together middle-power countries to promote multilateralism and non-military solutions to Indo-Pacific challenges. North Korean denuclearization, vaccine distribution and the digital economy offer possibilities to create a diplomatic consensus among like-minded countries. Outreach should also concentrate on issues directly affecting Canada and its allies, like forging coalitions to resist hostage diplomacy and economic coercion. At the same time, Canada must develop a constructive relationship with China to mitigate regionwide challenges such as climate change.
Canada shares an interest with the U.S., Australia, Japan and other countries in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific develops in a free, open and rules-based manner. A more Machiavellian approach founded on the presumption that might is right would see Canada and similar middle-power countries become marginalized and more vulnerable to security challenges. It’s time for Canada to speak up and become more involved in the Indo-Pacific to prevent that scenario.
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